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By Gene Grant
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2004 Gene Grant
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe sun shimmered on the surface of the ocean, as the wind created little wavelets in the oppressive heat. It was August, 1867. The sails of the clipper ship were stark white against the blue sky as the vessel cut through the water with unbelievable speed, and Savannah loomed closer in a matter of minutes.
Henri Devereaux stood on the bow of the ship; his erect stance made him appear taller than he actually was. His fingers touched the silk scarf wound around his neck while his green eyes surveyed the coastline on either side of the city.
"Steady as she goes!" he bellowed with a deep, thick French accent then turned his attention to the busy cauldron of humanity in the port of Savannah.
The South was busy digging itself out of the devastation of the Civil War. The Docks and surrounding streets teamed with black and poor white laborers, muscles rippled and gleamed with sweat as the men put their backs into the task of unloading a cargo ship.
The Negroes raised their voices in rhythmic sounds. "Heave-ho! Hum! Lift dat Bale! Ha! Tote dat rum! Ho! Dark of night, soon will come! Hum! Ha! Ho!" The tune was repeated in varying cadences as they carried the casks of rum and rolled hogsheads of sorghum and molasses ashore. The Negroes walked with sure footing, down the single planks from the ships to the docks, around the bales of cotton and lumber waiting to be transported to foreign places.
Poor whites who were overseers and others tallied the shipments as they were unloaded. Many hangers-on were stragglers and bullies who thought it amusing to torment the Negroes, who were helpers to the merchants. Blacks were tripped and shoved off the sidewalks, the cruelty was always followed by derisive laughter.
The Devereaux Clipper dropped anchor a short distance from the harbor. A longboat was lowered alongside as the sun blazed high in the sky. The workmen's voices could be heard over the street noises.
Henri stepped over the side to the deck of the small craft, followed by Stephen and Jean-Claude, his menservants. The captain piloted the boat and guided the small vessel into port. Henri stood by the bowsprit as the craft glided smoothly to a stop at edge of the dock. He, Stephan, and Jean-Claude walked among the bales of cotton and workmen. Henri relished the sights and sounds of the pastoral American city.
In the glare of the sun, merchants and scalawags alike ogled the Frenchman's clothing, from his fine gray hat to his shiny boots. Henri and his well dressed entourage made their way along the wharf. The stench from the pigs penned on the pier was formidable as was the smell of the workmen and others in the crowd.
The stragglers gathered close to Henri and his attendants. They snickered and talked loudly behind dirty hands as spittle sprayed from their mouths. Some jeered.
"Dapper Dan is comin' through," one ruffian yelled!
Henri looked at them with disregard as he continued to make his way through the throng of malodorous men and caged animals.
A one eyed giant of a man with the straggly red beard blocked his path. The rogue's battered face attested that he had been knocked down, gouged, bitten and spiked into unconsciousness dozens of times in fierce brawls. Henri made his way around the hulking giant.
An inhuman scream from ahead distracted the crowd as a drunken, bearded man slapped a young Negro woman then hurled her from the sidewalk. The woman went stumbling one way and her bundle went the other as he stood weaving over her, a giant of a man.
"I tol' you to get on ahead! You black wench!", he yelled. "Gal you gonna get it now!" He fumbled to get the whip off his belt. The street rabble encouraged him to teach her a lesson, because no Negro would dare cross or disobey their master.
The crowd formed a semi-circle around him and the woman, shouting, "Give It to her August!"
"You black hearted witch! You're my property. You do what I tell ya!" Spit dribbled into his dirty, stringy beard as he drew his arm back to beat the woman.
The crowd moved closer to see the anticipated lashing.
The woman cowered on the ground with one arm raised to protect herself against the blow. August Blanc, the woman's master brought the whip forward.
Henri was now abreast of the bad-tempered rogue, who was about to beat the woman.
Bracing herself against the assault, the woman's hazel eyes mirrored her terror as August brought his hand down to deliver the blow. Henri reached out and grasped the whip in its downward thrust and held it in a surprisingly strong grip.
An eerie hush fell over the crowd as they hungrily moved in closer.
August Blanc was taken by surprise, "What? Who?" He turned and gaped at Henri. "Well, well, what have we here? A pansy!" he said, laughing loudly. "How sweet can you get folks?"
"You looking at a cute one August!" someone yelled from the crowd.
Raucous laughter erupted.
"Why you sweet smelling popinjay! She's my property," August yelled!
That's no way to treat your possession, monsieur," Henri responded quietly.
"I'll give you, a whipping within an inch of your sweet life!" August said showing off, for his cronies as he rushed Henri, his discolored teeth were bared in a sadistic grimace, his foul breath bursting from his mouth.
Henri sidestepped the first onslaught and sent a fist to August's neck. His servants scrambled back against a storefront. Henri tossed his hat and cane to Stephen, then tugged gently on his fine leather gloves.
August turned and shook his head like an enraged bull, squaring his shoulders for another rush at Henri.
The men circled each other. Henri poised for the hoodlum to attack.
"I have sweet smelling dandies like you for breakfast everyday," August bragged.
The raucous crowd encouraged him, and August charged with his head down like most street brawlers. Henri sidestepped again with the agility of a bull fighter slamming a jarring blow to the side of August's face.
The crowd fell silent again as the drunken man staggered and stumbled into the riffraff, blood pouring from his nose. The crowd held him upright, turned him around, then shoved him back into the fray.
The Negro woman looked on in surprised disbelief and frightened pleasure then she rolled out of the way of her stunned owner as he made another charge.
Henri used a series of kicks and punches, sending the big man floundering to his knees. Blood gushed from another cut over the bridge of his nose.
August touched the side of his face, staring in disbelief at his blood. He roared and turned a little unsteadily with his fists raised, swinging wildly, but his roundhouse blows designed to rip a man's head off missed the mark. Henri eluded the wild swings, as he delivered the final barrage of blows, sending the thug to the ground groggy and bleeding.
The crowd looked on with grudging respect at the slender man who'd been unscathed by the bully of Savannah.
The Frenchman collected his hat and cane then brushed imaginary dust from his lapel. "Help her up and bring her over." he ordered the servants. They went to her, helped her stand, then brought her to the sidewalk.
The crowd parted, their eyes wide with disbelief, no one dared help a Negro in public.
Henri gently turned her face from side to side. He looked at her delicate bone structure and flawless black skin, and her almond shaped hazel eyes, then directed his servants, "Get her bag and take her -"
"You can't take her, she's my property!" August said. He gulped, wiping the back of his hand across his mouth. "I just bought her today! I'm taking her with me!" August staggered to his feet and stood reeling.
"How much?" Henri inquired.
"Two hundred dollars," August replied, a crafty look in his blue eyes.
Henri reached into his breast pocket for a money pouch and gave the man the money. "Jean-Claude, take her to the ship and get her cleaned up. I will return when my business arrangements are completed. Stephen come with me," he directed, walking toward the shipping office without a backward glance.
"She wasn't worth more then a hundred!" August shouted at Henri's back, trying to regain a modicum of dignity. "We'll meet again, you just wait and see!"
Henri walked to the Aberdeen Shipping Office. Inside he went across the room to the desk. "Good morning. I'm Henri Devereaux. I'm here to see Monsieur Abberdeen."
"Do you have an appointment?" the male clerk asked.
"Yes. My card," Henri replied.
The clerk crossed to a door behind his desk, knocked, then opened the door marked John Aberdeen-President and went inside, closing the door quietly, saying , 'Sir, a Mr. Devereaux to see you."
A rotund little man turned from the window, his dark red hair with mutton chop side burns surrounding a pleasant rosy face with twinkling blue eyes and grin wrinkles at the corners of his mouth, "Yes, show him in."
The clerk scurried out and was back in moments, escorting Henri into the office. John Abberdeen came from behind his desk to meet the Frenchman with outstretched hand. "Monsieur Devereaux it's a pleasure to see you again," Abberdeen said. smiling, they shook hands, "Please have a seat. Can I get you something? Coffee?"
"Coffee would be fine," Henri answered.
"Bring coffee," Abberdeen directed the clerk, then he said to Henri, "I saw the fight, or the whipping you gave ole August," he chuckled, and asked, "Where did you learn to fight like that?"
"In the Orient," Henri answered, his tone making it clear it wasn't something he wanted to discuss.
"August is a mean one. You be careful, he'll try to get even," Abberdeen warned.
"Thanks for the admonition."
Abberdeen asked as he sat behind his desk, "How was your voyage?"
"The Devereaux Clipper is a beauty and quite fast," Henri replied.
"You travel a great deal?"
"Yes, I've been to many countries," Henri answered.
The clerk came in carrying a tray with an elaborate coffeepot, fine china, and a silver service. He poured the coffee, asking, "Sugar, cream.?"
"No, black, please,' Henri answered, passing a packet of papers to Abberdeen. "These are the invoices for the cargo of rum, fabrics and machinery."
Abberdeen took the parcel of papers.
The clerk placed the cups in front of the men and left the room, closing the door quietly.
"I want to see Devereaux Manor before I leave for France," Henri said, sipping his coffee..
Abberdeen opened a desk drawer and removed a package. "I know you'll like that part of Georgia. Come, I'll show you." He walked to a state map on the wall and Henri Followed. Abberdeen pointed to the map, "This area here is where the Chattahoochee mountain streams run in a northerly direction and empty into the Tennessee River system. Then it continues on to the Mississippi. Your representative picked the best place for your home, and everything is ready."
"Are there inlets along the bay?" Henri asked.
"Yes. That's beautiful country up there in Kalb Kove," the merchant replied. "It's located between Savannah and the Tennessee border. You'll love that part of Georgia."
"I'll have to go there soon," Henri answered.
"The work on your home was done according to your instructions."
"Yes. I'll study this as soon as the cargo is unloaded," Henri said. He walked to the desk and picked up the plans and other papers.
"I took the liberty of arranging transportation to Devereaux Manor. I also extended invitations for dinner so you can meet some of the businessmen and plantation owners up there, I hope you don't mind."
"That was kind of you. It should work out splendidly. Before my return to France," Henri said.
"The pleasure was mine, I'll be there to make sure you meet all the right people," Abberdeen answered, pleased with himself.
"The plantation has overseers and laborers as I've instructed? Pay scales, everything, including the chapel and burial facilities?" Henri asked, he paused for a moment. "The silk wall coverings arrived intact?"
"Yes. I was there, as I said,, the mansion was in the final stages of completion right down to the oak tree lined drive. There's a good overseer, a Negro named Seifus, trained him myself. Business is slow now, it'll pick up in time."
"It would appear you have done your job well," Henri said.
"Devereaux Manor of Kalb Kove, Georgia, the name fits perfectly," Abberdeen said proudly.
Henri shook Abberdeeen's hand, then turned and left the office.
"It's beautiful, absolutely beautiful," Abberdeen said, following him out.
"I'll be looking forward to doing business with you in the future, Monsieur Abberdeen. Come Stephen," Henri said. As he pulled on his gloves and left the building with his servant.
John Abberdeen hooked his thumbs into his suspenders, grinning with pride. He went to the window that overlooked the harbor, rocking back and forth from heel to toe with his chest out. He watched Henri and his attendant make their way toward the pier. Farther out in the distance the graceful lines of the clipper ship rode at anchor in the bay.
"Monsieur Devereaux it's bad luck for a woman to be aboard ship!", the ships mate said as Henri went below deck, "Men are too hard to handle even if she is as black as night!"
"That's nonsense," Henri answered. "She's a human being and she stays until I find a better place for her."
The mate stood with his hands on his hips and watched as Henri walked to his cabin. The man shook his head and turned toward another compartment. "She probably has a heart as black as she is," he muttered.
Henri entered his quarters and removed his gloves, hat and coat, then poured himself a goblet of wine. He was about to sit for supper when he became aware of the girl, staring at him. He saw her frightened eyes, in the shadows partially hidden behind the bed. She hid her face when he turned to look at her.
He set his goblet aside and went to her, gently helping her up. "Don't be afraid I won't hurt you, little one," he said, and led her to the seat near the porthole and sat her down. His servants had cleaned her up and dressed her in an oversized white nightshirt. A belt cinched it around her slim waist. Her features rivaled any Egyptian princes he had ever seen. He looked at her closely, she was tall with a small rounded head and a long, graceful neck. Her hair was closely cropped and fitted her head like a skullcap, and the hair was slightly curled, not wooly. Her body was graceful, slim as a young sapling, with pert thrusting breasts.
Her skin was like black velvet. He glanced over her long ebony thighs, concealed by the nightshirt. The garment accentuated her slender curving hips, and a waist as small as a child's. Her small nose served to balance her face along with her slightly slanted, half-closed eyes, which smoldered yellow brown under thick lashes.
"You are beautiful," he said softly and reached out to touch her cheek. She continued to cower, and moved to the end of the seat. "No one will hurt you here, little one," he persisted. "What is your name?"
"Ymani sir," she answered in a thickly accented, throaty voice.
"That means faith," Henri chuckled, "You're not showing much faith now. Come I won't harm you. Eat, there's plenty for both of us."
"You know my country?", she asked hesitantly.
"I've traveled to northwest Africa and a few other places in that country. I have seen many in your nation, but none as lovely as you," he responded. Fascinated, he reached out to touch her skin again. She moved farther. "I didn't think it possible, but you are as beautiful as any woman I have seen in any country," he said.
She relaxed a little as he poured a goblet of wine for her and served her some food. Ymani reluctantly relaxed across from him and ate hungrily. Henri sat, sipping his wine, watching her consume the meal.
Ymani stopped eating when she realized he wasn't eating, and turned away, ashamed.
"When did you eat last?" he asked.
"Two days, sir," she answered hesitantly but continued to avert her face.
"You'll always have enough to eat as long as you're with me. I'll take care of you," he said softly.
She smiled bashfully revealing small white teeth. Her face was transformed in that instant from lovely to beautiful.
"Now, the sleeping arrangements," he said, and slapped both hands on his knees and stood.
Her smile disappeared quickly. Her eyes grew wide with apprehension. He noticed, and walked to an alcove and pulled back the curtain to disclose a couch against the wall. Then he found a warm coverlet. "This is where you'll sleep while aboard. Take your meals in here, don't go on deck until night. The men think it's bad luck having a woman on board ship. I'll see that you have suitable clothes to wear," he said.
Excerpted from Dangerous Compulsion by Gene Grant Copyright © 2004 by Gene Grant. Excerpted by permission.
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